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On Relationships with Outsiders

Author's note: The following is part of a satirical series modeled on the Screwtape Letters. The writer of these letters is training an underling in the art of keeping justice out of discipleship, and, eventually, the life of the church.

My dear Schimmel, I've spent a great deal of time teaching you the danger of relationship with "the other". Yet it is so important to our work I will instruct you again. You've been working on Jason, haven't you? I see you've kept him fairly isolated, but I think he may still be at risk.

In the office prod him to collaborate only with the people who make it easy. You know, the ones who already think like him, who move on his timetable, and who won't try to see things from funny new angles. Trying new perspectives and working relationships is inefficient and inconvenient, and surely you can convince Jason that he might be setting himself up for embarrassment. Best to stay in a guaranteed environment where he has mastered all of the cultural norms.

Schimmel, I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping Jason tightly bound in his friend group at church. The lobby is fraught with outsiders, any number of whom could show Jason a new perspective and wreck our hard work. Teach him to fear eye contact with people who might ask something of him. Keep him firmly planted in an exclusive circle, far from the misfit corner. You know the place, where those who don't quite fit in gather? The usual includer people sit there too and chat--the type who remind you to wear a name tag ("hospitality!") and prod you into conversation with the new kid. Let Jason assume those includers have boundless capacity to sit with misfits and won't need a break. Besides, those people in the corner might be needy or awkward or lonely, and it's not really the church's job to meet those needs. Well, at least convince him it's not his job.

If you follow these instructions you should be fairly safe. However, there is always the possibility that Jason (or any of your other subjects) may unexpectedly form a relationship with an outsider. If this happens, encourage Jason to avoid letting this person into his car, home, friend group, or prayer life. At the very first knock on the door after 9 pm (reasonable visiting hours in any civilized culture) stir his annoyance and lead him to defensiveness. After all, it's already a considerable inconvenience to be friends with this person, and to be asked for help after hours? It really is too much of an imposition. Feed this thought, Schimmel, and let it take root in his mind. If you're feeling particularly fiendish suggest that Jesus himself would have ignored an outsider rather than suffer such an inconvenience.

With time he will unlearn their stories. And that is important, Schimmel, because humans remember each other's stories. Unlearning the stories of people unlike him is one of the best ways to drain him of empathy.

In this way you keep Jason isolated from the people who could tell him of injustice. He will focus on the injustices of his own life—rising gas prices, not enough tax breaks, rumors that the nativity will be banned from city hall—and remain completely oblivious to the large-scale systems impacting the people around him. And this is the true goal of isolation: Jason must focus all his energy on self-interest. It is the people who look out for the interests of others that are most dangerous.

[Image: Flickr user Montecruz Foto]


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